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Priest-king from Uruk, Mesopotamia, Iraq, c. 3000 BCE. The Iraq Museum (transparent).png
Priest-king of Uruk from the Late Uruk Period
King of the First dynasty of Uruk
Reignc. 3400-3100 BC (Late Uruk Period)[1][2]
DynastyUruk I

Enmerkar[a][b] was an ancient Sumerian ruler to whom the construction of Uruk and a 420-year reign[c] was attributed. According to literary sources, he led various campaigns against the land of Aratta.

Historical king[edit]

Late Uruk period[edit]

The tradition of Enmerkar as the founder of Uruk seems to date from the Jemdet Nasr period (3100-2900 BC) as found in the Ad-gi4 list. The lexical list mentions Enmerkar and his wife Enmerkarzi as the builders of a town and the bringers of agriculture. A bilingual edition of the list has been found at Nineveh, indicating that the tradition was transmitted into the first millennium.[4]

Enmerkar and (his) wife Enmerkar-zi,

who know (how to build) towns (made) brick and brick pavements.

When the yearly flood reached its proper level,

(they made) irrigation canals and all kinds of irrigation ditches.

Despite his proclaimed divine descent from the poems, Enmerkar was not deified as his successors Lugalbanda and Gilgamesh. These two last kings were already listed in the god lists of Shuruppak and received offerings during the Ur III period (2112-2004 BC). It concluded that Enmerkar was only remembered as the founder and first king of Uruk.[5]

Expeditions to Aratta[edit]

Some scholars have looked for historical matter in the literature deeds of Enmerkar and the land of Aratta. For example, an archaic tablet from Uruk recording the title "Lord of Aratta" was given as a reason to believe the traditions surrounding Enmerkar's deeds were based in reality.[6] Moreover, there are suggestions that Enmerkar and his administration may be factually attributed as the first person/people to put cuneiform to clay tablets; and that writing did indeed exist before Enmerkar, citing the fact that the Lord of Aratta understood the message, but those writing were previously done in different materials.

However, assyriologist Dina Katz states that any attempt to find a historical explanation of the legendary account invalidates the claim that Enmerkar invented the clay tablet and the writing system, and weakens the important ideological purpose of the narrative. She further notices that the poem claiming writing as an invention by the founder of the first Sumerian city after the flood is a political and ethnic statement.[5]

Akkadian Empire[edit]

During the reign of Naram-Sin of Akkad, the king accused Enmerkar of not recording his experience on a stele, so as a consequence he holds him responsible for a defeat in war and the devastation of Akkad.[5]

Matter of Aratta[edit]

The Matter of Aratta is a group of four narrative poems in Sumerian, dealing with the various ways Enmerkar won supremacy over the legendary city of Aratta. The main motif of all four poems is the defeat of Aratta throughout the wilderness by nonmilitary means to win the favor of the goddess Inanna. The cycle originated in the Ur III period (2112-2004 BC) and were subjects of scribal schools from Ur and Nippur during the Isin-Larsa period (2017-1763 BC).[7] The poems, aimed to praise the glorious past of Uruk, were a political movement of the Third Dynasty of Ur to consolidate themselves as the legitimate and spiritual heirs of the ancient rulers of Uruk.[8]

Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta[edit]

In Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, Enmerkar, king of Uruk, wants to embellish his city with precious metals and stones, goods that are only found in the wealthy city of Aratta, which lies behind the mountains. Inanna, which is the goddess of Aratta, favors Enmerkar and advises him to send a messenger with a challenge to Aratta, requisitioning what he wants and enforcing his claim by stating that she favors him. Enmerkar casts the spell of Nudimmud, which makes Enlil reunite all the languages (of Shubur, Hamazi, Sumer, Akkad, and the Martu land) into one in order to be debates between kings. The lord of Aratta refuses but wants to enter into a contest with Enmerkar to see on which side Inanna lay. The unnamed lord of Aratta sends three riddles to reconsider his submission:

  • To cart grain to Aratta in open nets instead of bags, Enmerkar uses sprouting barley to close the interstices of the nets so that no grain is spilled.
  • To bring a scepter made of no existing material, Enmerkar prepares a gluelike plastic substance that he pours into a hollow reed; after it has hardened, he breaks away the reed mold.
  • To bring a dog of no known color to fight his own dog, to which Enmerkar weaves a cloth of no known color.

The messenger complains that the messages have become too long and difficult to remember and reproduce. Enmerkar invents writing, which throws the lord of Aratta into despair. The land of Aratta suffers famine and drought. Inanna confirms her predilection for Enmerkar but also tells him to institute peaceful trade with Aratta from now on.

Enmerkar and Ensuhgirana[edit]

Ensuhgirana, lord of Aratta, claims to be the recipient of Inanna's favors and demands the submission of Uruk. Enmerkar refuses and points out that he is the only true and constant lover of Inanna, however, the lord of Aratta refuses to submit to Uruk. A sorcerer from Hamazi offers his services to break the stalemate, services which are accepted by Enshugirana. The wizard casts a spell on the cattle of the goddess Nisaba, and there is a famine in Sumer. Utu sends a wise woman who catches up with the wizard on the banks of the Euphrates, both start a competition of magic. The wizard throws fish spawn in the river and draws out an animal; five times the wise woman draws out another animal which hunts the wizard's animal. The wizard admits his defeat and pleads for his life, but he is killed and the spell is broken. Ensuhgirana admits defeat and submits to Enmerkar. The glory of Enmerkar comes from his (? dangling sentence here).

Lugalbanda poems[edit]

Enmerkar marches against Aratta, his warchief Lugalbanda falls ill and is abandoned in a cave. He feasts Anzud's chick and gains the legendary bird's favor. Lugalbanda is rewarded with the gift of speed and goes to Enmerkar, who is laying siege to Aratta. The king sends Lugalbanda to ask for Inanna's advice in Uruk, which does. At the end, Aratta submits. The text also mentions that fifty years into Enmerkar's reign, the Martu people had arisen in all of Sumer and Akkad, necessitating the building of a wall in the desert to protect Uruk.

Later influence[edit]

In antiquity[edit]

In a much later Greek legend related by Aelian[9] (ca. AD 200), the king of Babylon, Euechoros or Seuechoros (also appearing in many variants as Sevekhoros, earlier Sacchoras, etc.), is said to be the grandfather of Gilgamos, who later becomes king of Babylon (i.e., Gilgamesh of Uruk). Several recent scholars have suggested that this "Seuechoros" or "Euechoros" is moreover to be identified with Enmerkar of Uruk, as well as the fictional Euechous named by Berossus as being the first king of Chaldea and Assyria. This last name Euechous (also appearing as Evechius, and in many other variants) has, along with a number of other fictional and real Mesopotamian rulers, been identified with the historically unattested biblical figure of Nimrod.[10]

Identification as Nimrod[edit]

The historian David Rohl has claimed parallels between Enmerkar, builder of Uruk, and Nimrod, ruler of biblical Erech (Uruk), who, according to some extra-biblical legends, was supposedly the architect of the Tower of Babel. One parallel Rohl has noted is between the epithet "the Hunter", applied to Nimrod, and the suffix -kar at the end of Enmerkar's name, which means "hunter". Rohl has also argued that Eridu near Ur is the original site of the city of Babel and that the incomplete ziggurat found there is none other than the Biblical tower itself.[11]


  1. ^ While the etymology stills unclear, ""the 'Lord' (is / has) a glowing giant snake" has been proposed.[3]
  2. ^ Sumerian: 𒂗𒈨𒅕𒃸, romanized: Enmerkar
  3. ^ Some copies read 900 years.


  1. ^ Pournelle, Jennifer R. (2003). Marshland of Cities: Deltaic Landscapes and the Evolution of Civilization. S.N. p. 267.
  2. ^ Yushu, Gong (2004). The Sumerian Account of the Invention of Writing —A New Interpretation. Elsevier Ltd. pp. 7446–7453.
  3. ^ Selz, G. J Irano-Sumerica p.259-267
  4. ^ Civil, Miguel (2013). "Remarks on AD-GI 4 (A.K.A."Archaic Word List C" or "Tribute"". Journal of Cuneiform Studies. 65: 13–67. doi:10.5615/jcunestud.65.2013.0013. S2CID 163638035.
  5. ^ a b c Katz, D. (2017). Ups and Downs in the Career of Enmerkar, King of Uruk. In 1038779203 795202920 O. Drewnowska & 1038779204 795202920 M. Sandowicz (Authors), Fortune and misfortune in the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the 60th Rencontre assyriologique internationale at Warsaw 21–25 July 2014 (pp. 201-202). Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns.
  6. ^ Green, M. W. (1980). "Animal Husbandry at Uruk in the Archaic Period". Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 39 (1): 16–18. doi:10.1086/372776. ISSN 0022-2968. JSTOR 544106. PMID 16468178. S2CID 36265933.
  7. ^ Vanstiphout, Herman (2003). Epics of Sumerian Kings: The matter of Aratta. Society of Biblical Literature Atlanta. p. 1. ISBN 1-58983-083-0.
  8. ^ Berlin, Adele (January 1983). "Ethnopoetry and the Enmerkar Epics". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 103 (1): 17–24. doi:10.2307/601856. JSTOR 601856.
  9. ^ De Natura Animalium 12.21
  10. ^ Wouter F. M. Henkelman, "The Birth of Gilgamesh", in Altertum und Mittelmeerraum: die antike Welt diesseits und jenseits der Levante, p. 819.
  11. ^ Legends: The Genesis of Civilization (1998) and The Lost Testament (2002) by David Rohl

External links[edit]

Regnal titles
Preceded by Sumerian ruler
En of Uruk

c. 3400-3100 BC (Late Uruk Period)
Succeeded by